The Mini brand has issues, notably dealer profitability and customer affordability, said Jason Willis, chairman of the Mini National Dealer Council.
"When it comes to affordability, the question is whether the price of the car can match consumer demands, consumer expectations," Willis told Automotive News. "That's the biggest struggle we fight with Mini."
Help is on the way, Willis said, in the form of the all-electric 2020 Mini Cooper SE, due in U.S. showrooms in March. Suggested retail is $30,750, including $850 shipping. That allows the brand to advertise a price point below $30,000.
Mini had an electric vehicle pilot program a decade ago. The brand sold 500 battery-powered models to corporations and some individuals, but ultimately dropped the so-called Mini E model, citing problems including lack of infrastructure. Today, Mini has a plug-in hybrid version of the Countryman, a small crossover.
Willis, 41, dealer principal of Mini of Des Moines in Iowa, is a true believer in the Mini franchise. Most Mini dealers own an adjoining BMW dealership. Other Mini dealers hold a BMW franchise, Willis said, but not next to the Mini store, maybe even in a different city. But Willis says he's the only U.S. Mini dealer who doesn't also have a BMW franchise.
Special Correspondent Jim Henry interviewed Willis by phone, in December and January, and followed up by email. Here are edited excerpts.
Q: Is there anything in the lineup you're surprised you don't have?
A: If anything, it's the "Mini E," the Mini Cooper SE. There's been a Mini E in the past, and there's been one in Europe. True Mini enthusiasts know there's been a Mini E in existence abroad. Definitely, Mini buyers are excited. We have a very large number of hand raisers.